Montréal is the largest city in eastern Canada and after Paris, the second largest French-speaking city in the world. Located on an island at the junction of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers, to the north of New York state. Montréal is a center for trade and exchange. The stockaded settlement of Hochelaga predated the arrival of the first white explorers, such as Jacques Cartier. European settlement dates from 1642 when Maisonneuve established a small fort, Ville Marie, on the St. Lawrence River. Montréal takes its name from Mt. Royal, an imposing hill in the center of the city. The location of the city has ensured Montréal's position prominence in shipping, manufacturing, and until recently, finance. Although today its manufacturing industries are in decline, Montréal remains an important port for both ocean-going freighters and shipping on the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes. Initially settled by the French, Montréal's population has been divided between an English-speaking business elite and a poorer working French-speaking class.
Montréal's ethnic complexion and its importance in both English Canada and Québec has changed. Under pressure from Québec Nationalists, major businesses and the English-speaking elites who dominated them have departed for Toronto and English-speaking Canada. Québec City, the provincial capital, has surpassed Montréal as the center of Québec political life. Although Montréal, particularly the eastern part of the city, remains French, Francophone middle classes have departed for the suburbs. Immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and other parts of the world have made Montréal an ethnically diverse city. The city remains an important cultural center and a destination for North American and European tourists enticed by its restaurants, entertainment, neighborhoods, and the character of its older city. Narrow cobblestoned streets, stone buildings, and numerous cafes give Old Montréal a more European character than any other North American city except the provincial capital Québec City.